“In a police department of about three-thousand sworn souls, you are one of thirty-six investigators entrusted with the pursuit of that most extraordinary of crimes: the theft of a human life. You speak for the dead. You avenge those lost to the world.”
Dead bodies, long hours and black coffee. David Simon’s novel Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets offers a candid look into the world of the Baltimore Police Department’s Homicide Unit — grizzly details and all.
In 1988, Simon was working for the Baltimore Sun when he became the first reporter to gain unlimited access to a police homicide unit. He took the opportunity and entrenched himself in the unit’s day-to-day operations for an entire year. Homicide follows 19 detectives as they navigate difficult cases and policeman politics, the book is the real-life inspiration for HBO’s The Wire.
Finishing the first chapter I already felt immersed in the police world. Simon manages to tell the story through the eyes of the detectives in a way that doesn’t feel contrived or made-up. He peppers the story with police-lingo and a writes with a rhythm that alludes to a Baltimore accent. The narrator sounds like a no-bullshit New Yorker.
This voice really intrigues me because as journalists we’re taught to report the facts and leave our own voice out of our reporting as much as possible. Simon never uses “I” but he does take on the role of intermediary by placing the reader in every crime scene; and letting us hear every interrogation and every off-colour joke. And, obviously, an entire book written like a news article would be a horrendous read.
As I was reading, I kept thinking about how close Simon must have been to his subject. How do you leave your emotions and your opinions at the door when you’re faced with horrible situations everyday? Being able to separate yourself from a story is an integral part of non-biased reporting and I’m sure the same goes for police work. I know I find that separation difficult at times, especially if I’m writing about something I’m passionate about.
I’ll be writing about the themes and issues raised in Homicide for the next 9 weeks so be prepared for spoilers if you haven’t read the book, and if you have read it please let me know what you think about my analysis!